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US Senate delays vote to sanction China over 'currency wars'

A bill placing economic sanctions on China for devaluing its currency is delayed, and may not make it through the House anyway.

Harry Reid and Charles Schumer address reporters. The Democratic senators have delayed a vote on a bill sanctioning China.
Harry Reid and Charles Schumer address reporters. The Democratic senators have delayed a vote on a bill sanctioning China.
Image: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

US SENATORS HAVE DELAYED a vote to impose sanctions on China for its unfair currency practices, in a bid to overcome differences between the Republican and Democratic ranks.

The bill, which makes it easier to raise tariffs against Chinese goods if China keeps the yuan undervalued, is now set to be voted upon again on Tuesday, when it is expected to pass with bipartisan support.

But partisanship ruled the day yesterday, when Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell couldn’t agree on what amendments would be allowed – leading Democrats to use their majority powers to push through a rule change that restricts the offering of non-relevant amendments to legislation.

The Chinese currency legislation – which has been years in the making – reflects frustration at the failures by current and past presidents to force a change in Chinese policy through diplomacy, and the Chinese economic onslaught that saw the trade deficit with China hit $273 billion last year.

The bill hopes to force China to end its practice of keeping the yuan undervalued against the dollar, which makes making Chinese exports cheaper and US products sold in China more expensive.

Economists say the yuan is 25 percent to 30 percent undervalued, with some putting the figure as high as 40 percent, giving Chinese producers a significant advantage against American competitors.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham cited estimates that China has cost the US around two million manufacturing jobs in the past decade, and that the advantage Chinese producers have because of the undervalued currency could prove devastating as China prepares to enter world markets in commercial aircraft and automobiles.

“We cannot continue to let China flaunt the rules,” Democrat Chuck Schumer said. If action isn’t taken, “we may never recover as a country. This is serious stuff.”

The legislation, even if it passes the Senate, is still a long way from becoming law. House supporters of a similar bill say they have 225 co-sponsors, enough to pass it – but Speaker John Boehner doesn’t like it and could prevent it from reaching the floor for a vote.

Boehner said this week that it was “pretty dangerous” to tell another country how to set its monetary policy.

The White House has remained noncommittal, but has emphasised the importance of working through diplomatic and international channels rather than challenging the Chinese with unilateral action that could result in retaliation from China.

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Associated Press

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